VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
ZAMBIANS are generally familiar with the happenings in Angola, a former Portuguese colony that was locked in a civil war for much of the time since 1975.Zambia played its role in trying to bring peace between the governing MPLA [Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola] and Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA [National Union for the Total Independence of Angola]. It even hosted the peace talks in Lusaka.
Although Augustino Neto is the first President of Angola, the familiar name for most Zambians is Eduardo Dos Santos. It is understandable: He ruled Angola for almost four decades before stepping down.
There is a new face as president of Angola.
His name is Joao Lourenco. He is popularly known as JLo.
According to Deutsche Welle, General Lourenco is considered to be a loyal party soldier – a man who has always been ready to take on greater responsibility in the governing MPLA.
He served as governor in several provinces of Angola, and between 1992 and 1997 before later becoming the party’s secretary-general for several years.
Before becoming the country’s flag bearer in last year’s parliamentary elections, he was the country’s defence minister.
Born in 1954 in the port town of Lobito, he played his role in stabilising Angola.
“He was 21 years old when the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975. He joined the Marxist MPLA, one of three liberation movements that seized power in the capital, Luanda, and waged a bloody war against the rebel movements UNITA and FNLA,” Antonio Cascais wrote in the Deutsche Welle last year as Angola went to the polls that ushered JLo as president.
His background is said to be modest. His father was a medical worker and his mother a seamstress.
“The MPLA’s war against the rebels became young Lourenco’s first professional area of work.
“In the north of the country, on the border with Congo, Lourenco earned his first spurs as a soldier,” according to the article.
“He took part in several military exercises and training courses run by Cuban advisors. Of all liberation movements, the MPLA was the best-organised with international connections, especially with Cuba and the Soviet Union, but also with other eastern bloc countries in Europe.
“In 1978, Lourenco travelled to the Soviet Union, where he completed a history course for party cadres at the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin military academy. After his return to Angola, Lourenco quickly rose to the rank of general, consolidated his position in the party and founded a family. “He married an MPLA leader, who later clinched a ministerial position as well as a post with the World Bank. His marriage with Ana Dias Lourenco produced six children, who are now also politically active – with the MPLA, of course.”
There was a law passed to the effect that decisions that were made by the outgoing president would be out of bounds for the new president.
Political analysts interpreted this to mean that the new president would be more of the same.
But they were wrong.
In November last year, he fired Isabel Dos Santos, the billionaire daughter of former president José Eduardo dos Santos and Africa’s richest woman, of the country’s state oil company Sonangol.
It was a marker.
Last year, Isabel was the only African to have made it to Forbes magazine’s ranking of the top 100 women for the year.
She came in at number 74.
The woman with business interests in finance and investment, was believed to be worth around $3.4billion as of November last year.
Anyhow, JLo was not done yet.
He made another move in January.
He dismissed Jose Filomeno dos Santos, son of his predecessor, as chairman of the country’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund.
“The sovereign wealth fund dismissal isn’t a surprise and it certainly isn’t Lourenco’s most aggressive move,” said Paula Roque, a political analyst at Oxford University was quoted by Bloomberg. “Lourenco could be doing two things: reforming the economy, or simply trying to take over the key structures of power.”
But Bloomberg went further.
It reported: “He has already removed his predecessor’s daughter, Isabel, as chairwoman of the state-owned oil company Sonangol, and fired the central bank governor and the head of diamond company Endiama. He has also terminated management contracts for state TV channels with two other Dos Santos children.
“While Lourenco was commonly referred to as “J-Lo” during his election campaign, the unexpected string of dismissals has earned him the nickname ‘relent less remover’ and comparisons with the Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie character.”
Angola has been trying to rebuild, particularly its infrastructure since the end of the civil war.
For instance, to date the country has invested more than US$25 billion in the recovery of its road network to boost trade nationally and internationally.
While the country is striving to rebuild its road network, the US$8.5 million African Development Bank (AfDB) funded grant to the Lobito corridor trade facilitation project is expected to boost intra and inter regional trade.
AfDB provided the grant after a successful request made by the Angolan and Zambian governments to the bank for the development of the Lobito corridor also known as the North- Western Corridor, which will link Zambia with Angola, via the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The railway will connect Zambia to the port of Lobito on the Atlantic coast, facilitating the transport of bulk cargo such as copper to international markets.
The Mwinilunga –Jimbe road is another significant project aimed at enhancing the trade relations between Zambia and Angola.
Once completed, heavy volumes of goods will be transported using this route between the two countries.
North-Western Province permanent secretary Ephraim Mateo is impressed with the progress of works on the road.
FRECA Mining and Manufacturing Limited, a Zambian company was awarded the contract to construct the road that will connect the two countries.
“The completion of the Mwinilunga –Jimbe road will bring trade closer to our friends in Angola, many people especially informal and formal traders are looking forward to the operation of this road,” Mr Mateo said.
However, there is need also for the Benguela Railways to start functioning to among other things ease the transportation of minerals from DRC and Zambia to the Port of Lubito.
Angolan Ambassador to Zambia Balbina Da Silva has been focused on strengthening bilateral relations between Angola and Zambia since she assumed office.
Zambia and Angola signed a bilateral trade agreement in January 2017 to provide for duty-free and quota-free market access of most goods produced in the country.
VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka